Archives for July 2015

Terraforming a Lunar Crater with Robots

Living on the Moon will be difficult for humans.  Several problems exist for survival on the lunar surface.  Basically, no atmosphere is present on the Moon.   Temperature extremes are difficult to work in for both humans and machines.  There is a two week daytime and a two week nighttime.  And finally, the water that is on the Moon is in the form of ice and it is only in a few craters at the poles.  Robots could help solve some of these problems.

Terriforming to Build a Moon Base

Illustration of a Moon Base – NASA Illustration

NASA currently has a new project that they have funded to send robots to the moon. The idea is to provide sunlight to the Shackleton Crater.

NASA wants to turn the moon into a lunar science lab: Fleet of robots could terraform Shackleton Crater

Daily Mail:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3153475/Nasa-want-turn-moon-lunar-science-lab-Fleet-robots-terraform-football-pitch-sized-Shackleton-Crater.html#ixzz3gRJozgpJ

Currently, the plan is to have the robots use reflectors to redirect sunlight into the bottom of the crater, which is located at the lunar South Pole. What would result from this is a warm environment for other robots to work in at the depths of the crater.

What makes Shackleton Crater such an attractive location for this large terraforming project is its massive size (roughly 130 square miles), as well as the fact it’s entirely flanked by peaks measuring some 14,000 feet in height.

Digital Trends: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/nasa-is-considering-terraforming-the-moon-with-autonomous-robots/#ixzz3gRRHD5Do

The first robots to arrive for this project would be “transformer type” machines that would unfold into a giant reflective mirror to redirect sunlight into the crater.  Following those robots would be scientific and exploration bots whose job it would be to sample and process materials from the depths of the crater.

According to Adrian Stoica of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The TransFormer (TF) concept is a paradigm shift to operating in Extreme Environments (EE). TFs are systems that direct energy into energy-depleted (extreme) environments, transforming them, locally, around robots or humans, into mild micro-environments.”

Science Alert:  NASA is investigating the possibility of terraforming the Moon. With Robots.

Shackleton crater is thought to hold a valuable resource of water ice. Tapping into this frozen treasure will provide both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in addition to liquid water. All of these products are essential for further exploration in the solar system. In the future, what happens is, this lunar crater becomes an interplanetary gas station for the exploration of the solar system.

image

Shackelton Crater Photo Credit: NASA LRO

So what are your thoughts regarding this project?  Although this project is only in the very early prototype stages, it is nonetheless an intriguing idea.  Robots have always been the pioneers in space exploration blazing the trail for human explorers to follow. And that will certainly be the case here.  I look forward to a conversation about this proposal.

 

Sources:

Digital Trends: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/nasa-is-considering-terraforming-the-moon-with-autonomous-robots/#ixzz3gRRHD5Do

Science Alert:  NASA is investigating the possibility of terraforming the Moon. With Robots.

Daily Mail:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3153475/Nasa-want-turn-moon-lunar-science-lab-Fleet-robots-terraform-football-pitch-sized-Shackleton-Crater.html#ixzz3gRJozgpJ

Have Robots Become Self-Aware?

Nao Robot

“NAO waving” by Anonimski – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

In what could be a historic moment, a robot just might have shown the beginnings of self-awareness. An interesting side note to this story is the fact that not more than a week ago I told a group of students that scientists and engineers were at least decades from creating robots that could be considered to be conscious or self-aware.  Obviously, I was mistaken.

In this article from Discovery News, the experiment is described in which three humanoid robots are tested with a logic puzzle. In this procedure, one of the robots showed it was able to respond in a way that can only be explained if the robot has some degree of self awareness.

A robot has demonstrated that it exhibits a degree of self-awareness for the very first time.

One thing I find interesting about this is the fact that the robots involved in this experiment are NAOs.  These are small humanoid robots that are readily available for under $10,000.  They are not some high-end supercomputer powered android.  They are fairly simple machines.  (Do we need to rethink even calling them machines?)

So what can we say about this achievement. Should we be excited?  Should we be concerned?  Or maybe this is not as big a deal as it is being made out to be.  I for one have not really decided what I think about this.  On the one hand, there is the whole philosophical issue of machine self-awareness, and on the other hand, we as humans may really have to rethink this concept of self-awareness.  Do we event understand what it means when  we say humans are self-aware.

What do you think about this?  I would really appreciate your feedback on this issue, since I myself am trying to think my way through it.  Leave a comment and let me know.

Source: Self-Aware Robot Solves Riddle.

Robotic Swans

Robotic Swan

Photo © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

There seems to be no end to the types of robots inspired by nature.  This story about robotic swans had its start in an article that appeared in Tech Times several days ago.  As I thought about how to write about these “swanbots”, I did some research about robotic swans and found that this application is not the first use of swans as a model for robot development.

In fact, the first “robotic” swan was probably this Silver Swan  pictured here to the left.  The machine was conceived and constructed by John Joseph Merlin in partnership with the London inventor James Cox in 1773.  It is more accurately an automaton, in that it worked by means of a clockwork mechanism.  An automaton is a self-operating machine… designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations…

And then we have our second robotic Swan, the dancing Swan, also known as the Dying Swan.  This Swan robot was built to dance to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”  As those who have seen it dance describe it,

‘The Dying Swan’ is sometimes moving smoothly and gently, sometimes in a dramatic and fiery manner, as Tchaikovsky’s majestic music from the ballet Swan Lake is playing; yet this is no ordinary ballet dancer, but a robot in the form of a swan.”

Finally, there is are there is the third type of robot Swan that was in the original article that inspired this post.  This is the robot Swan that gathers information about the environment of the water where it swims.  Scientists will start testing robot swans in the Singapore River that will test and monitor the waters for things like pH level and oxygen to control pollution.

Nature has once again provided a model for robotics.  In this case three wildly different types of robots based on the model of a Swan.  If this is a topic that you find interesting please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Sources:

Wikipedia, Silver Swan (automaton)

Wikipedia, Automaton

ScienceDaily, Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotion

EurekAlert, Dancing Robot Swan Triggers Emotion

Popular Science, Robotic Swan Majestically Dances to ‘Swan Lake,’ Moving Viewers to Tears

TechTimes, Robot Swans Swim Singapore River To Test And Monitor The Waters In Real-Time

Hopping Robot Has Soft Outer Layer with Metal Insides

Image

Origami Frog

An origami frog is not able to jump or even move at all unassisted.  It is folded from a single piece of paper as in the image at the left.  However, engineers at two universities have come up with a jumping robot that is something amazing.  About all it has in common with a real frog is that it has a soft body and the ability to hop.  That is because the robotic hopper has a soft outside and a metal interior and is made of 3-D printed parts.

Scientists at Harvard University and UC San Diego have created the first robot with a 3D-printed body that transitions from an outer layer that is soft to the touch into a rigid metal core.  (The Christian Science Monitor – Science Notebook)

So far in tests, the robots have proven to be durable and powerful.  The engineers have demonstrated that the bots can hop about 2.5 feet high and last for more than 30 jumps.

Engineers have designed and built a frog-like jumping robot that incorporates hard and soft parts — and they’ve done it with a 3D printer.  (Los Angeles Times – Science Now)

What applications may this robotic hopper have in the future?  The engineers reported in the journal Science that the primary applications in the search and rescue field.  But, because it is designed to have a soft exterior, it may also be able to operate around humans more safely that a robot with a hard metal exterior.

Biologically inspired robots continue to be a mainstay for robotic designs.  This is only one of the latest in the field of biomimetics.  Many robots fall into this category.  There have been snakebots, robofish, and now a frog-inspired robot.

Let RobotNext know what you think about this.

Sources:

Los Angeles Times,  Watch it jump! 3D-printed hopper could lead to better rescue robots

The Christian Science Monitor, Hopping 3-D printed robot has soft exterior, heart of metal

Seahorse tails provide inspiration for future robots

imageAdding to the list from nature that has inspired robotics development is the seahorse.  And what is it about the seahorse that is so applicable to robots?  It’s the tail. Actually, it’s the shape of the tail that is important for future bots.

I did not realize until I read this post on Gizmag, that seahorses have square-shaped tails.  This unique structure allows for great strength and flexibility.

The researchers used 3-D printers to build prototypes of the seahorse tail structures and found that the square shape was more durable and stronger than a cylindrical shape.

The key to better, tougher and more coordinated robots as well as improved surgical procedures, among other advances, could derive their inspiration from an unlikely source – the odd, square tail of the all-around strange seahorse.

So, once again nature is proving to be a model for the development of new and useful robots.  You can read the complete article on this at the link below.  Let RobotNext know what you think about this.

Source: Gizmag – The key to awesome future robots could be seahorse tails